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Spenserian Ambitions at Kilcolman, Mallow and Rycote: A response to Tadhg O’Keeffe
by Thomas Herron

Professor Tadhg O’Keeffe, the accomplished Irish archaeologist and architectural historian, writes in Spenser Review a detailed and imaginative essay on Spenser’s architectural environs in Munster.[1] O’Keeffe offers a valuable study of the poet’s ‘experiential’ existence at home at Kilcolman, and he makes further analysis within this context of contemporary building and settlement schemes in Munster of Sir Walter Raleigh and the Norris family. Spenser did not live in a social desert in north Munster but was one among many ‘New English’ planters and administrators, some remarkably talented, who had been working their way into the region for a generation.[2] They partly replaced English settlers (the “Old English”) and native Irish families that had lorded over Munster for centuries. O’Keeffe provides valuable documentary and evaluative evidence of Norris-Raleigh connections in Ireland in the 1580s and ‘90s, and he suggests that a drawing of a house on a plantation map (c. 1586) by Arthur Robins was a direct model for the design of Norris’ fortified house at Mallow (c. 1588-90) in County Cork. Raleigh was apparently influenced by these same sources when he built Sherborne Castle (c. 1592) in Devonshire.

Spenser appears in O’Keeffe’s analysis as something of a corollary and anxious contrast to the successful machinations of this powerful duo of Norris and Raleigh (O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths’). Regarding Spenser, O’Keeffe reaches a problematic and insightful conclusion:

Spenser’s relative success, and indeed his survival for so long at Kilcolman, might have depended as much on his possessing a residence in visual rhythm with the architecture of native gentry culture as it did on his lawyers’ ability to challenge native landowners like Maurice Roche. But let us not assume that, climbing a stone spiral stairs to his bedroom, he was happy!

Spenser, a London scholarship boy, fulfilled an ambition to become a major landowner and officer (nominated Sheriff of Cork soon before his death) in the Queen’s realm, but was potentially ‘unhappy’ in doing so. A major reason for this, as posited by O’Keeffe, was Spenser’s relative isolation, including legal and physical vulnerability, at Kilcolman. Underlying the Munster Plantation were half a million acres of the earl of Desmond’s attainted lands and those of his confederates. As soon as they had been assigned, surveyed and distributed for plantation, they were resented, haggled over and contested. The New English planters were scattered across the province, increasing their distance from one another in many cases. Spenser ended up mired in constant lawsuits with his Old English neighbour Lord Roche, as noted by O’Keeffe, and these became violent. Spenser was, eventually, in 1598, burnt out of Kilcolman during the Nine Years’ War. Spenser died a homecoming refugee in London in early 1599. Before then, he was clearly nervous in his poetry and prose about future loss: Irish-looking Brigants help spoil the pastoral idyll around Mount Acidale in Book VI of FQ (pub. 1596); the Irish ‘pouke’, ‘bodrags’ and/or prowling wolves are threatening forces in Epithalamion and Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, and all is prey to mutability (and harsh, Jovian conquest) in the Mutabilitie Cantos. Spenser (or his predecessor Andrew Reade?) rightly named his Kilcolman estate ‘Hap-Hazard’.

As I argue here, O’Keeffe pushes his reading of Spenser’s isolation and anxiety in Munster too far. Spenser arguably had a positive georgic and pastoral vision of his colonial circumstances that counterbalanced his fearful one and that helped to drive his epic endeavours on the page and on his estates.[3] In his analysis, O’Keeffe overlooks the likely influence of the Norris family seat of Rycote, Oxfordshire on the design of Mallow Castle. Noticing this connection and a royal pageant performed at Rycote makes Mallow, and hence Kilcolman, seem less isolated and more like an extension of the New (and Old) English imperium.

According to O’Keeffe, Spenser lives at Kilcolman ‘in visual rhythm with the architecture of native gentry culture’, which is true. Such an existence would accord, analogously, with the medieval calendar paraded on Arlo Hill: once the harvest was successfully in, landlord Spenser likely saw himself as the archetypal figure of jolly Autumn, ‘Laden with fruits that made him laugh, full glad/ That he had banisht hunger’ (FQ VII.vii.30.3-4). But Spenser also had a modern style of expression, which is more difficult to ascertain architecturally at Kilcolman, since the parts he added have disappeared in the flames and ruin of time, ‘Nought leauing, but their barren ashes, without seede’ (vii.24.9). A few seeds or artefacts do remain, however, that attest to Spenser’s potential optimism at Kilcolman.





O’Keeffe arguably exaggerates the extent to which Spenser would have been isolated and un-‘happy’ in his Irish situation because of the meagre and antiquated state of Kilcolman itself. Kilcolman’s main structures consisted of the ‘architecture of native gentry culture’, i.e., a medieval tower house and great hall within a fortified bawn [Fig. 1]. To them Spenser added an intermediary ‘parlour’ which, as archaeologist Eric Klingelhofer has found, was a plastered, probably half-timbered structure.[4] The parlour was burnt with the rest of the place: over time, only a few stones from the bawn wall and a sizable chunk of the tower house have remained above ground.


Fig. 1: reconstruction of Kilcolman towerhouse and building complex at sunrise, with windows, from Centering Spenser: a digital resource for Kilcolman Castle. View is from the NE, inside the outer bawn area. The wall of the inner bawn can be seen in the left foreground. Behind it lies the medieval great hall and Spenser-era ‘parlour’, which is the half-timbered building in the middle.


O’Keeffe’s main point of comparison is Mallow, which completely replaced an earlier medieval foundation and ‘is the oldest surviving residence built ab initio during the Munster Plantation, and the only one to have been built before 1600’ (O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths’). There is, however, record of a new house being built pre-1590 by Lord Chancellor Hatton at Cappoquin along the Blackwater, although no trace of it remains.[5] As for Kilcolman itself, O’Keeffe downplays its key new component in Spenser’s time, i.e., the intermediary parlour. With this addition Spenser would have sewn together two medieval structures, the great hall and the stone tower. O’Keeffe rightly states that ‘the alterations which [Spenser] made to his castle – in order to give it an Elizabethan social topography… were modest’ (O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths’).[6] But how modest? O’Keeffe remarks that Kilcolman did not have ‘big, multi-pane windows of the type installed at Mallow’ (O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths’) but that applies with certainty only to the bare amount of structure remaining: what might have been inserted by Spenser into the upper floors of the towerhouse that are now gone?

Mallow, in any case, has smaller, more fortified windows among larger ones (see below). The towerhouse at Barryscourt, in southern County Cork and owned by Spenser’s neighbor Lord Barry (and coveted for a time by Sir Walter Ralegh), has multi-paned windows on multiple sides near the top (Barryscourt is grander than Kilcolman, however), as does Blarney Castle. An illustration (1633) of the towerhouse at Glin, Co. Limerick shows sizeable windows on lower floors.[7] Ballynamona Castle, a towerhouse near Kilcolman, has a multipaned window on its third story, as does Clara Castle in Co. Kilkenny.[8] Spenser calls attention to a bedroom window that he owns (‘my window’) near the end of Epithalamion, where ‘Cinthia’ the moon shines in, and he implores the stars of heaven to ‘lend desired light’ to his marriage chamber (372, 412). This ‘light’ is primarily spiritual but also literal.

The early sixteenth-century great hall at Kilcolman, built by Desmond aristocrats and occupied by Spenser, would presumably have had sizeable windows. Compare the windows in the extant Desmond banqueting hall (15th century) built of stone and attached to a tower house at Newcastle West, County Limerick. A key question is not whether, but how many windows did Spenser place in his new, central ‘parlour’? Among the finds from Klingelhofer’s excavation at Kilcolman in the mid-1990s were ‘glass and lead from Elizabethan casement windows’.[9] The parlour could therefore have been as modern and well-windowed as any fresh building on the Thames, just as the upper stories of Kilcolman could have been retrofitted with windows; we don’t know.

Outside of the new ‘parlour’, the native architecture of Kilcolman is remarkable in its ability to convey a sense of confidence, wealth and even optimism: it is far grander than any half-timbered secretary’s hovel in London or in Kent. It had an aristocratic Old English pedigree. Spenser took it over from Sir John Fitzgerald, the brother and fellow rebel of the fifteenth earl of Desmond. What kind of murals and tapestries once decked its walls?[10] Both it and the great hall adjacent to it were inside a sizeable bawn or fortification wall; in or outside of the yard would have been all the properties of a working estate: smithy, stables, an orchard etc., all filled with the bustle and trade of industry.

Then there’s the towerhouse itself. Standing on top of it, owned by him, would have been a heady experience for Spenser. Kilcolman’s ruins today give a poor sense of what that would have entailed, since the castle only reaches up four storeys at most: in O’Keeffe’s words, it resembles a ‘small grey clump’ from a distance (O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths’).[11] But from the southwest, in the sunlight, it is impressive [Fig. 2]. To get a better sense of its former grandeur, climb up the full six storeys of nearby ruined Castlepook (which I have done) [Fig. 3], or – much wiser – visit or rent an intact towerhouse, such as that at Ballyportry, Co. Clare,[12] and spend a few minutes staring out over the magnificent landscape, pretending you own much of what you see. A heady experience indeed. Doing so banishes the idea of Kilcolman as a bare raggedy stump in the middle of nowhere, next to a forsaken bog.


Fig. 2: Kilcolman Castle, Co. Cork from the SW (photo by James Lyttleton). The castle stands on a ridge, and much of the original structure is missing.


Fig. 3: Castlepook, County Cork, in 2012 (photo by author). It was owned in Spenser’s day by the Synan family, tenants of Lord Roche.


Then there’s the land around the castle. The neighbouring bog (more of a seasonal lake) is part of a wilderness preserve today, and so it makes the castle feel more isolated and romantically ruinous to visitors (one thinks also of the castle that repeatedly sinks in a swamp in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). But in Spenser’s time the bog would have been an enviable resource for any settler. Not only did its rough terrain offer protection from attack on that side, but it attracted wildlife diversity, i.e., food: it is the equivalent today of having a convenience store in your neighbourhood. In Epithalamion, a paean to fertility of bride and soil, Spenser praises ‘Those trouts and pikes [that] all others doo excell’ in Kilcolman’s ‘rushy lake’ (Epithalamion 59-60); rushes are also useful for household goods.

A grant of over 3,000 exploitable acres anywhere is nothing but impressive for a middling administrator like Spenser to obtain; how he obtained it, we don’t know: quite possibly through the patronage of Raleigh and/or Norris (and/or Walsingham or someone at court), and/or with the help of Lodowick Bryskett and the Sidney family, and/or through some financial deal with the original owner Andrew Reade, who appears never to have settled there.[13] Spenser’s land may have been among treacherous Old English lords and near dangerous hills to the north, including the Glen of Aherlow, but those hills had trees that could be harvested. (Raleigh for example excelled at timber harvesting in Munster). Before the 1598 sacking, there is no record of thievery at Kilcolman during Spenser’s tenure, and potentially hostile local lords like Roche or Barry, Viscount Buttevant, could be bought off or fought in court, where Spenser, being in the administration, could punch above his weight.

According to O’Keeffe, Spenser was relatively isolated, without even a ‘road’ to his castle.[14] But Kilcolman was hardly isolated: its acres are in the heart of fertile Desmond territory, not far south of the fertile plains known as ‘Golden Vale of Limerick’ today: Desmond’s breadbasket. They lay in an economically prosperous region (in peaceful circumstances), near the town of Buttevant (to the west-southwest), a key settlement and stronghold along the main route from Cork to Limerick. Buttevant was the medieval stronghold of Lord Barry, and it had a sizeable castle, friary (which Spenser took possession of in 1598) and – little noticed – the house known today as ‘Lombard’s Castle’, which gave Spenser a direct connection to Lombardy via an Italian wool-merchant family who settled there after the Anglo-Norman (i.e., ‘Old English’) invasion. Kilcolman also lay relatively close to both Mallow (approximately eleven miles to the southwest) and to the impressive walled town of Kilmallock (fifteen miles to the north). Kilcolman may not have been directly on a ‘road’ (though archaeology has not shown this) but, like any working farm, it was not far from one. As David Newman Johnson also suggests (and archaeology has not yet investigated), a small settlement of people could have lived adjacent or near to Kilcolman Castle.[15] This farming community would have regularly used small roads to get to the big roads connecting them to Mallow, Kilmallock, Cork and Limerick, and from there to Dublin, London and the world.[16]

Most roads at the time were difficult in any case, and Munster had a ‘not especially bad’ network of them.[17] Equally important, Spenser’s estate bordered streams, such as the Awbeg,[18] that would have been navigable at high water and that connected his estate to Buttevant and the River Blackwater, a main Munster artery that flowed through both Mallow (in one direction) and Raleigh’s estates (in the other); in between them lay the estates of the fearsome Lord Roche.

Finally, we must understand Kilcolman as only one of various properties Spenser owned and invested in, which would have naturally supported and traded with each other. Spenser owned Renny Castle on the Blackwater, for example; it remains flat to ground, unexcavated and unsurveyed today.




Rycote and Mallow


As a connection between Raleigh and the Norris brothers in Ireland, O’Keeffe notes architectural parallels between Raleigh’s Sherborne Castle, Mallow Castle and the prior drawing of a mansion on a Munster plantation map (c. 1586) by Arthur Robins (Fig. 4a-c).


Fig 4: scheme of Arthur Robins map (a), with detail of mansion (b), possibly the source of Mallow Castle (c) [from O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths’]


Robins’ ‘plat’ of Munster was once presumably amid other detailed architectural plans lying around Raleigh’s properties in the town of Youghal, where both Norris and Raleigh were periodically in the late 1580s and early ‘90s (O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths’). But rather than using these plans to design Mallow, as O’Keeffe suggests they did, the Norrises may have been copying their own house at Rycote in Oxfordshire (Fig. 5a-b). This is an obvious choice. Rycote, now in ruins, was a large complex of buildings, and its central Tudor-era manor (built in the first half of the sixteenth century) had the most distinctive feature found at Mallow, the flanking polygonal towers and triangular, gabled rooflines.[19]



Fig. 5a: “Drawing of the façade of Rycote House” (1740s), Rycote, Oxfordshire, by Henry Winstanley, after a drawing by William Delafield for his father Thomas Delafield’s unpublished history of Rycote.  MS. Gough Oxon. 31, fol. 212r.  Reproduced with permission of the Bodleian Library.



Fig. 5b:  detail “Drawing of the façade of Rycote House” (1740s) by Winstanley.


By contrast, Sherborne (in the drawing provided by O’Keeffe) does not have multiple sections and has undulating (not crowstepped) gables along its front.[20] Furthermore, some of the features at Rycote are a closer match to the Robins drawing than are details linking that drawing to Mallow. In particular, at Rycote as on the Robins map, note the prominent front door; two main stories (not counting the gables); tall domed or capped towers; and sets of paired large windows on the first and second floors, located directly under the gabled rooflines. The house in Robins’ map is also closer in length to Rycote than to Mallow: measured by the large, vertically aligned window bays between the terminal towers at the front of the building, the Robins house has two and Rycote and Mallow both have five bays (counting the larger but not the smaller intermediary windows at Mallow). What Rycote doesn’t have that both Robins’ house and Mallow have, however, are ‘three towers with intermediate gables’ noted by O’Keeffe (O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths’).  Instead, at Rycote, the entrance is flanked by two smaller towers.

It seems possible, then, that Rycote is the model on which Robins based his mansion drawing, which then influenced the design of Mallow, and/or that Rycote directly influenced the building of Mallow. Where Sherborne fits into this process is uncertain. What is certain is that the Robins house is highly schematised, even generic, as demonstrated by the second house just opposite in the drawing: that structure resembles the same mansion cut in half (Fig. 4a).

Mallow is, in any case, more practically fortified than the Robins house (which lacks crenellation, although, like Mallow and Rycote, it has slit windows in the flanking towers) or Sherborne, which did not fear invasion from its neighbors. Lest we think that Mallow was all windows, airy and light, we should note its gun loops (Fig. 6) and smaller, more protective windows on the ground and top floors. Its crenellations were practical, and its jutting central pier would have had a defensive purpose (to offer flanking fire along the walls) (Fig. 7). The front pier is echoed by a similar but lengthier, symmetrically placed pier sticking out of the back of the building (Fig. 8). The building is a strange hybrid, a highly modern, livable fortress built not only for show and comfort but to intimidate and to defend.[21] It is an apt fore-runner of the ‘fortified houses’ of the later plantation period. Whereas Sherborne in England was a fanciful reflection of Raleigh and Spenser’s romance-epic ‘chivalric’ aesthetic,[22] Mallow in Ireland was a fortified Rycote.


Fig. 6: interior shot of Mallow with gun embrasures under the upper windows. The central front projection is on left. (Photo: Sara Painter)



Fig. 7: floorplan of Mallow, from David Sweetman, The Medieval Castles of Ireland (Cork: Collins Press, 1999): 180.  Reproduced with permission.


Fig. 8: view of rear of Mallow, from the NE (Sweetman 181). Reproduced with permission.


Fig. 9: view of Mallow on the Blackwater, from the SE. [J.R. O’Flanagan, The Blackwater in Munster (London, 1844): 134.]


 The Norrises were hardly isolated in the middle of south Munster, nor was Munster all that far from Oxfordshire. Mallow, as noted, was on a road network as well as on the River Blackwater (Fig. 9) and so connected to the world. Furthermore, we know from a contemporary literary spectacle that the queen and the Norrises in England were thinking of the Norrises in Ireland. In the fall of 1591, Elizabeth visited the paterfamilias Sir Henry Norris and his wife Margery at Rycote, ten miles east of Oxford, as part of her progress to various aristocratic estates. As we learn from the account published in 1592, the queen was entertained there by a mythological pageant. Norris in his opening speech to the pageant celebrates his long military service and that of his sons to the queen. The queen then receives tribute in a pastoral setting from various lands with Norris connections, including a ‘Darte of gold’ embossed with diamonds from Ireland. The present came wrapped in a letter and was carried by a speechless ‘Irish lacq[ue]’ (who may have been a local Rycote person in disguise) with the motto ‘I flye onely for my soueraigne’ written upon it ‘in Irish’.

Norris’ son Sir John Norris was Lord President of Munster at the time and probably in attendance at Rycote. His brother Thomas, vice-president of Munster, was in Ireland governing in his older brother’s stead. Thomas, who would have sent (or supposedly sent) the letter, had trouble disciplining his troops. Instead of referring to these problems, however, Thomas laments his forlorn state far away from England and proclaims his abiding loyalty to the queen; he has an ‘English hearte’ and those who lack such ‘faith’ ‘fastened’ in their ‘hart’ deserve to have their hearts pierced by that kind of dart (‘an Irish weapon’) instead.[23]  The message is, if you don’t love the English then you deserve to be slain by the Irish; ironically, and pleasurably, the Queen in her common role as Venus-Diana in her pageants also fires darts into men’s hearts. If Mallow had already been built by the time of the queen’s progress to Rycote (as O’Keeffe argues), then the gift would have conjured that house and the Munster Plantation specifically to mind as a source of imperial riches and military loyalty for the realm.




How ‘happy’ was Spenser at Kilcolman? We can never know for sure, but the material reality of his life there harmonises with an optimistic and pro-imperial message found in his later poetry amid all the localised anxieties. Evidence suggests that Kilcolman Castle was substantive in scale and well connected to the cultural cross-currents and planter networks of early modern Munster. Klingelhofer makes direct comparison between Sir Walter Raleigh’s neo-chivalric and practically useless crenellations at Sherborne and the impractical quality of the parlour building at Kilcolman Castle and The Faerie Queene itself: ‘One must assume that Spenser’s own residence was in style and intent Spenserian, a castle, in Ben Jonson’s words, “built with ayre”’.[24] But the parlour built in Spenser’s time was attached to two larger structures, one of them heavily fortified, and all sat behind a sizeable bawn wall.

In Amoretti, Spenser advertises a ‘brasen towre’ and ‘sacred bowre’ to his future bride in one breath (Amoretti 65.13-14). This vision predicts the fertile ‘bridale bowre and geniall bed’ found at Kilcolman in the poet’s imagination in ‘Epithalamion’ (399).  Spenser turns Hap-hazard into a place of ‘Hopefull hap to sing’ (‘Epithalamion’ 388) during the day and night, insofar as the couple’s figurative field-work continues with Cynthia and Juno’s blessing.  To a poet like Spenser, furthermore, the airy counted for more than empty space and false illusions: Spenser’s fantasies included the real power of Gloriana, the stern reach of common and executive law backed by armies marshalled in the queen’s name and led by Arthur and Artegall, or Sir Henry Sidney and Grey and Norris, et al., her loyal servants in Ireland. These garrisons would include those housed at Mallow, a place that notably did not fall to rebels in 1598 nor later in the war. Mallow was a half-day’s ride away from Kilcolman and accessible by boat. Sir John of Desmond prior to his rebellion was owner of both the old castle of Mallow and of Kilcolman, and so he must have ridden between the two, just as Spenser did. New Mallow castle was built on the spot of old Mallow castle. If we see partly renovated Kilcolman as an outlier or allied extension of the renovated Mallow, rather than as a contrast,[25] and both as both Old and New English extensions of English (medieval and Tudor) architecture and power, then we can certainly stress their imperial purpose and viability as congruent with an older medieval lordly inheritance made new.


Thomas Herron



[1] O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths about Raleigh and Spenser: Sir Thomas Norris and the rebuilding of Mallow Castle’, Spenser Review 48.3.2 (Fall 2018). Accessed at

[2] For a history of the Munster Plantation, see Michael MacCarthy-Morrogh, The Munster Plantation: English Migration to Southern Ireland, 1583-1641 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986). This is based on the work by MacCarthy-Morrogh, The Munster Plantation, 1583-1641 (PhD Thesis, Royal Holloway College, London, 1983), which has valuable information in the appendices not included in the monograph. For the ill-fated plantation scheme in Desmond territory backed by Sir Henry Sidney in the later 1560s, see P.J. Piveronius, ‘Sir Warham St Leger and the first Munster Plantation’, Eire-Ireland 14.2 (1979), 16-36.

[3] Benjamin P. Myers, ‘The Green and Golden World: Spenser’s Rewriting of the Munster Plantation’, ELH 76.2 (Summer 2009), 473-90; Thomas Herron, ‘Colonialism and Irish Plantation’, Edmund Spenser in Context, ed. Andrew Escobedo (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2017), 72-82; ibid, ‘New English Nation: Munster Politics, Virgilian Complaint, and Pastoral Empire in Spenser’s ‘Colin Clouts Come Home Againe’ (1595)’, Eolas: Journal of the American Society of Irish Medieval Studies 8 (2015), 89-122.

[4] According to contemporary reports, Spenser had built a ‘fair stone house’ at Kilcolman… was this a house whose trace hasn’t been found? See MacCarthy-Morrogh, The Munster Plantation, 1583-1641 367; David Newman Johnson, ‘Kilcolman Castle’. The Spenser Encyclopedia. Ed. A.C. Hamilton. (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990), 417-22: 419.

[5] MacCarthy-Morrogh, The Munster Plantation, 1583-1641 386-7.

[6] O’Keeffe also discusses the structure in his lengthier study, O’Keeffe, ‘Kilcolman Castle, Co. Cork: a new interpretation of Edmund Spenser’s residence in plantation Munster’, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Vol. 21.1 (March 2017), 223-239: 231-2; see also Eric Klingelhofer, ‘Edmund Spenser at Kilcolman Castle: the archaeological evidence’, Post-Medieval Archaeology 39.1 (2005): 133-54; Thomas Herron, ‘Life at Kilcolman: Arrangement and Uses of Buildings’. Centering Spenser: a digital resource for Kilcolman Castle.

[7] Johnson Figs 10-11. Johnson draws comparison between Blarney, Glin and Kilcolman.

[8] O’Keeffe calls Ballynamona castle more ‘elaborate’ than Kilcolman; it was owned by the Nagle family, who intermarried with Spenser’s son Sylvanus. O’Keeffe, ‘Kilcolman Castle’ 228-9, fig. 5. For the towerhouse at Clara (late 15th-century), see Harold Leask, Irish Castles and Castellated Houses (1951) (Dundalk: Dundalgan Press, 1999): 79-85.

[9] Klingelhofer, Castles and Colonists: an archaeology of Elizabethan Ireland (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2010): 122.

[10] O’Keeffe writes that ‘Tudor culture had barely penetrated Irish court circles by the late 1500s’ (O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths’), which would have surprised the Old English earls of Kildare, Ormond, and Desmond, not to mention the cultured native Irish O’Donnells and O’Neills, et al., who sometimes visited London and Dublin. For discussion of hypothetical tapestries in Spenser’s domestic spaces and poetry, see ‘Object Description: Tapestry’ on the Centering Spenser website: (accessed 4/26/2019).

[11] O’Keeffe, ‘Kilcolman Castle’ writes that the tower’s ‘original height… is not known but its floor-area suggests that it was probably four storeys high (it was certainly no more than five)’ (O’Keeffe 231-2). The ruin currently stands at four stories (counting the two-story high cellar) and at least one floor above is clearly missing. A visitor to the battlements above the top floor, be it five (and possibly six) stories up, would therefore have had a view from at least six and possibly seven stories up. The castle also stands on a ridge elevated above the fields around it, and the ruin is most impressive when approached from the southwest (along the bog), whereas visitors today tend to approach it from the north or east.

[12] (accessed 12/17/2018)

[13] For more on the English lawyer Reade and Spenser’s Kilcolman situation generally, see Andrew Hadfield, Edmund Spenser: A Life (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012): 200-01. The smallest allotment for any undertaker was meant to be 4,000 acres. The 1589 inquiry into the plantation states that Spenser’s allotment as undertaker was originally that much but ultimately it came to 3,028 acres (MacCarthy-Morrogh, The Munster Plantation, 1583-1641 367). By contrast, in the original grants made for the later Ulster Plantation, the chief undertaker was allowed 3,000 acres, but no others would be allowed more than 2,000 acres [Philip Robinson, The Plantation of Ulster: British Settlement in an Irish Landscape, 1600-1670 (NY: St Martin’s Press, 1984): 63]. Compared to the one in Ulster, the Munster Plantation was a bonanza for even the most minor grantee. Many thanks to James Lyttleton for the Robinson reference as well as for other suggestions made on this paper.

[14] ‘When the modern visitor recovers from the shock of Kilcolman’s modesty as a residence, he or she should ruminate on the significance of the fact that no road goes it.’ (O’Keeffe, ‘Home Truths’)

[15] The 1591 grant to Spenser includes a ‘town’ of Kilcolman (Johnson 422).

[16] According to Andrew Hadfield, ‘Close to the towns of Buttevant and Mallow, [Kilcolman] would have been a convenient site for someone who had to travel north to Limerick; south to Cork; and across country north-east to the midland fortresses [and/or towns] of Clonmel, Kilkenny, and Carlow, on the route to Dublin’. (Hadfield 198)

[17] Hadfield 198; Colin Rynne notes that long distance travel was highly feasible on horseback in Munster in the first half of the 17th century: Rynne, ‘Colonial entrepreneur and urban developer: the economic and industrial infrastructure on Boyle’s Munster estates’, in David Edwards and Colin Rynne (eds), The Colonial world of Richard Boyle first earl of Cork (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2017), 89-111: 91-4. See also Herron, ‘Roads’, Centering Spenser.

[18] Spenser in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe describes the ‘Mulla’, aka the Awbeg, coursing through a ‘pleasant vale’ and ‘spreading forth at large’ at ‘Kilnemullah’, aka Buttevant (lines 107-13).

[19] Rediscovering Rycote: the history of a lost Tudor mansion: [accessed 3/9/2019]

[20] O’Keeffe (‘Home Truths’) does, however, draw a parallel between the edging of the gables between Mallow and Sherborne.

[21] See also Klingelhofer, Castles 150, 153.

[22] A building style labeled ‘Spenserian’ today (Klingelhofer, Castles 132, 138-43; Newman Johnson 422).

[23] R. Warwick Bond (ed.), The Complete Works of John Lyly (1902). 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967): 1.532. Bond notes that Sir John Norris was probably in attendance at Rycote, that the letter-writer would have been Sir Thomas Norris, and that the author of the pageant is John Lyly (Bond 1.485-90, 529, 532). See also Thomas Herron, Spenser’s Irish Work: Poetry, Plantation and Colonial Reformation (NY: Ashgate, 2007): 150.

[24] Klingelhofer, Castles 157; see also 151-2. To be fair, Klingelhofer notes the larger ‘imperial’ context in which Spenser and The Faerie Queene operated. In the conclusion to his book, he admirably sees archaeology as a way to bridge the gap between the idealistic and experiential sides of Spenser criticism (Castles 166).

[25] According to O’Keeffe, Kilcolman was ‘similar to but smaller than medieval Mallow Castle’, including towerhouse and great hall. (‘Home Truths’).


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Cite as:

Thomas Herron, "Spenserian Ambitions at Kilcolman, Mallow and Rycote: A response to Tadhg O’Keeffe," Spenser Review 49.2.4 (Spring-Summer 2019). Accessed June 21st, 2024.
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